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(-) Strictly with regard to meaning, "あそこ" and "あちら" are exactly the same, right? (of course, "あそこ" also has a slang meaning).

(-) Isn't "あちら" used more in writing? "あそこ" used in speaking?

(-) Isn't "あそこ" used in speaking because it sounds more pleasant? I am a native English speaker, and the "soft o" sound is pleasing to my ear and can be said very quickly. Does anyone agree, or am I crazy to say this?

(-) "あちら" would be the only appropriate option in formal conversations, right?

While I've heard "こちら" and "そちら" a lot, I've never heard "あちら". In fact, I had to check in my dictionary to verify it is even a word. Answers to these questions will help me decide about incorporating "あちら" into my speaking.

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あちら can refer to people (like あの人), unlike あそこ. You can also reduce あちら to あっち informally. –  snailboat Jan 16 at 20:48
    
exactly. My thinking about "あちら" originated with my thinking about how to use "そちら" and "こちら" as second person and first person pronouns. Then I realized there must be one more pronoun in that set that means "away from me and you". Then I was like that 3rd pronoun is probably "あちら", but I was not sure it was a word. –  kinyo Jan 16 at 21:00
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@snailplane, あれ can definitely refer to people, see dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/jn2/7972/m0u/%E3%81%82%E3%82%8C, 2. It's rude to the person referred to, but that's a different story. –  dainichi Jan 17 at 4:49
    
@dainichi Oh, thank you for the correction! I'll edit my comment to avoid misleading anyone else. –  snailboat Jan 17 at 4:51
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

あちら and あそこ have distinctly different meanings. あちら is a direction, and あそこ is a location. あちら can be used in places where the English translation would be 'there' rather than 'that way' (since Japanese seems to favor saying the direction something's in over the location it's at), but that doesn't in any way make it equivalent to あそこ.

It is true that あちら is somewhat more formal, but the informal form is the simple contraction あっち. This is probably what you've heard more often - it does seem that あちら is somewhat rare, but as far as I can tell this is purely due to chance.

I don't know about 'pleasantness', that's all pretty subjective. I have no preference between the two. (I also have no idea what a 'soft o' is - modern linguistics rarely uses metaphorical terms like 'hard' and 'soft'. It is true that あちら takes a tiny bit longer to say, but this is due to the fact that the [ʨ] there ('ch' romanised) is an affricate, which takes somewhat more time to say; but the difference is on the scale of maybe tens of milliseconds.)

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That is extremely helpful. I had no sense of the distinction between "location" and "direction". I very much appreciate this information. –  kinyo Jan 17 at 1:49
    
Actually, 美化語 inserts "soft o" 「お、ご」 into words to make them 美しい。 Anyway, my pronunciation of "あちら" is just horrible. –  kinyo Jan 17 at 2:16
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Oh, 美化語. That's a prefix, not an infix - things like お名前 instead of just 名前, or ご両親 instead of just 両親. (And it's a formality marker, really - I actually think it -detracts- from a word's aesthetic appeal, honestly :P) –  Sjiveru Jan 17 at 2:35
    
"It is true that あちら takes a tiny bit longer to say", any support for that claim? To me it would seem that they're both 3 morae, so taking the same time. I would probably agree, though, that あちら takes a bit more muscle effort. –  dainichi Jan 17 at 4:55
    
It's on a scale far smaller than that of morae, so for all intents and purposes they're the same length. The reason the [ʨ] is longer is that you have to have a stop and slowish noisy release, rather than just some noise or just a stop. –  Sjiveru Jan 17 at 14:20
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